Decoding Patient Engagement
When it comes to healthcare marketing, there’s only one outcome that ultimately matters – helping patients to lead their healthiest lives, whatever their personal healthiest happens to be. To enable this, brands need to inspire, motivate and most importantly, succeed in impacting behavior. This not only improves return on marketing spend, but creates evidence-based improvements that change lives. But the ability to impact behavior can’t happen unless it’s preceded by patient engagement.
Defining Patient Engagement
There’s no singular definition. For some marketing teams, patient engagement will be defined as digital marketing. For others, it might be healthcare social media marketing, content marketing or customer experience. Regardless, unless a patient is motivated and “taking action” as part of a deeper, more sustained relationship with a given product or brand, there really is no “engagement.”
Business growth comes down to this one word. Excelling at customer “engagement” directly results in higher customer lifetime value and lower customer acquisition costs, resulting in long-term, capital-efficient business growth.
Accenture’s 2021 Healthcare Experience Survey
The annual healthcare experience survey tapped 1,800 Americans, focusing on the overall healthcare experience as well as narrower issues around affordability and trust. Here are three of the most relevant takeaways for health system marketing teams, hospital marketing teams, and medical practice marketing teams.
Not surprisingly, Accenture found that the use of virtual care surged during the pandemic: 32% of respondents reported receiving it, compared to the pre-pandemic sum of 7%. But even as virtual care usage has plateaued, fewer people have been using mobile devices and social media as part of their care mix. Part of that may stem from a lack of trust in tech companies to maintain the sanctity of individuals’ health information.
“Even though folks are more isolated during the pandemic and are using virtual care the way they are, we’re not seeing the sustained adoption and growth that maybe we would all expect from those other digital channels,” Accenture’s senior managing director and global health lead Rich Birhanzel study explained. “That gives us some insight into patient experience and what those expectations are – and where we have room to grow as a healthcare system.”
Experiences still trend toward the negative
Even as providers strive to provide a better customer/patient experience, only one out of three people surveyed said they haven’t had a negative brand experience with an HCP. Accenture study author Birhanzel believes that people now expect health-adjacent organizations – hospitals, health insurers, tech companies and more – to connect with one another and, in so doing, provide the type of seamless brand experience offered by non-healthcare companies.
“People are increasingly noting that their healthcare experience is going to be across different venues and settings. They’ll engage with different organizations at times – with an app or a technology provider, or with a certain clinic for one situation and a different clinic for another,” Birhanzel said. “They expect connection and collaboration among those players.”
Empathy is in demand
Perhaps the report’s most important takeaway – for healthcare marketing teams and physicians alike – is the expectation among patients of emotional support from their providers. More than half of respondents said support and empathy, in the form of listening to and understanding a patient’s needs – was important.
“Patients want to receive emotional support even more than medical support when they’re engaging with a provider,” Birhanzel said. “And that really reinforces the point that this is a very personal experience for people. It’s important that the emotional side is addressed so that we have the whole patient experience covered, rather than just the medical or scientific side of it.”
When it comes to building trust, the report suggests that one of the essential steps is endeavoring to create more personal relationships. “The more we create a feeling of ‘this organization knows me, they care about me, they’re thinking about the long journey with me and not just this particular experience,’ the more we build trust,” Birhanzel said.
He goes on to say that “inevitably that’s about the technology providers deploy, the data they use and the training and awareness around the people who are interacting with patients. All of that can help focus on the person, and make the patient experience more humanizing.”
Behavior Change Requires Personalized Patient Engagement
A broadly targeted brand or service line campaign can’t possibly take into account the data and insights that are increasingly available and can be personalized for patients. Today, that data should be used to understand how audiences differ, fine-tune marketing messages most relevant to them and fuel communications strategies.
Changing behavior requires personalized customer engagement that stimulates action and fosters and develops resiliency in people to stay on course. How does this take place? With zero expectation that a consumer will perform an activity that takes them away from their daily life.
The Building Blocks of Brand Engagement
Understand customer behavior
Develop customer journey maps based on the different steps of your buyers’ purchase journey. According to Gartner, 82% of organizations have created a customer journey map, but only 47% are using those maps effectively.
Here’s a sample customer journey map for a B2B buying journey (Source: The New B2B Buying Journey, Gartner)
Where are organizations going wrong in building a compelling and insightful journey map? Consumer context. It’s easy for businesses to fall into the common trap of adopting a general approach to segments, where the final output of a map reflects more of the company’s perspective than the customers.
These types of maps guide healthcare marketing teams in the wrong direction, measuring and optimizing touchpoints that customers may not value. To avoid this, think like a customer, not about one.
Customer journey mapping is critical to being successful as an organization and understanding your customers better, “ says Cassandra Nordlund, Director, Advisory, Gartner. Of the companies that are successfully using their maps, all of them had a larger process in play, broken down into three stages:
- Discovery: Learn new things about the customer based on data and customer research
- Ideation: Identify customer pain points and generate solutions, considering the priority decision points along the journey
- Activation: Include stakeholders in the project prioritization and selection
Start with messaging your users
As stated in Braze’s 2021 Global Customer Engagement Review – it’s clear that brands need a digital-first strategy. But the truth is, you can’t have an effective digital strategy without customer engagement; however too many brands still don’t have a customer engagement approach in place. Some don’t message their users at all, which is more than a missed opportunity – it’s a mistake.
Consumers use more than one channel, so should brands
While many brands technically leverage multiple consumer channels (as consumers do), they tend to rely on only one for the majority of their campaigns. It’s not necessarily ineffective – sending messages via single channel is better than sending none at all – but nothing beats orchestrating campaigns across multiple coordinated channels. Research from Braze also found that brands who take a cross-channel approach that blends both in-product and out-of-product messaging channels tend to have the highest overall performance.
Meet patients where they are
It’s one thing to motivate a patient to want to do something. But moving forward requires a trigger to action, and that trigger needs to be easy. It needs to meet people where they are in the context of their everyday lives…in-the-moment…time-of-day…day of week – personalized and within their lifestyle; consistent with their day-to-day behaviors and cognitive processes. Simple. Convenient. Quick. Easy.
One company that stands out here is GoMo Health, a leader in patient and member behavioral-science based engagement, built to help people and communities thrive. Their science of personalized healthcare engagement stimulates action and fosters and develops resiliency. They use behavioral and cognitive science using proven psychological techniques, leveraging emotional attributes and cognition to motive in-the-moment actions at home, work and play.
GoMo’s Guiding Principles For Patient Engagement include:
- Simple and Highly Directed – stimulating AHA moments
- In The Moment – time of day and day of week matter; typically, one thought/question/action at a time; snackable bites of information
- It Is and Feels Personal (Creating intimacy) – immediately responsive, patient can initiate “conversation” flows
- Care Goes To The Person – creates bonds, creates feeling of belonging
- Enable Patients To Influence Based on Their Life At That Moment – responsive to human need, patient can interrupt current regimen and have “Concierge” go into triage mode to handle their event/issue
It’s this kind of care that is with the person helping them stay on course and be “resilient” through life’s up and downs – while providing tangible business results.
Other Methods to Strengthen Brand Engagement
Every organization is guided by unique needs and goals. However, there are some common marketing tactics that all organizations should consider.
Content marketing to move customers forward
Content marketing takes what your health system, hospital or medical practice stands for and delivers it as the brand’s wisdom, insights and vision to a prospective or current patient, allied healthcare professional or other stakeholder. Through this branded content, your healthcare organization becomes a personal transformation tool for its audiences.
Your healthcare blog
Blogs are an important tactic in your content marketing arsenal. And while they’re certainly not new, it’s worth reiterating how this form of content marketing can (and should) help healthcare brands create and align with their B2C and B2B audiences.
A strategically-driven blog can help medical practice marketing teams accomplish a number of important goals, while also helping customers achieve theirs. These include:
- Break down the traditional barriers between the medical practice, its physicians and patients
- Deepen brand/patient interactions beyond a point-in-time transaction
- Educate patients around your medical practice philosophy (beyond its conditions and treatments)
- Engage prospective and current patients in value-building conversations
- Move patients beyond the reach of competitors by forming customer bonds that competitors can’t match
- Enable smaller medical practice brands to leapfrog larger brands with deeper forms of meaning and connection
- Build trust through openness
- Introduce and acquaint patients with new services in the pipeline
- Compel patients to share with one another by way of the medical practice brand
- Tap into patient intelligence and perspective
- Express your passion for what you do
- Focus physicians and staff on customer needs and wants
- Discover patient pain points
Internal brand culture
The full potential to drive growth is only realized when your brand is clearly defined, understood and embraced by everyone who works for your organization. Just as culture isn’t the sole responsibility of HR, brand management is not the sole responsibility of marketing.
It’s critical to have complete alignment on your strategic brand ideas with your entire executive team, as your brand is one of the most powerful drivers for customer engagement and performance across all areas of your business.
Brand-led business requires the whole organization to be led from the very top to deliver consistently – through words, actions and behaviors – against brand promises. Here’s an infographic with these central branding strategy ideas:
Website as home base for your healthcare marketing
We know from our extensive work in healthcare marketing – with health systems and hospitals, medical practices and physician practices – that their websites tend to be the “home base” for their brand marketing efforts. It’s a home base that they also have total control over.
Because prospective patients continue to first look to answer their questions or first search providers online, it’s important to optimize your web presence to ensure prospective patients are able to find you and get the information they need.
Following this, here are ten tactics to ensure you’re winning your fair share of online searches.
A mobile-friendly website is one that is easy to navigate on a phone or tablet, as patient searches continue to trend to mobile phones and tablets.
2. SEO Best Practices
To improve your website ranking and search results, follow the best practices of search engine optimization. While you add and update marketing content to keep it fresh, weed out things like low-quality or duplicate content, and avoid spam tactics like keyword stuffing and link scheming.
3. Brand Content Marketing
As content is an important factor in search engine ranking, creating strategic keyword-based brand content attracts patient searches for your specific procedures and services.
4. Claim Local Listings
If you claim and verify your local listings in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, these search engines will display that information when patients in your area search for you.
5. Optimize Local Listings
Once your listing is claimed and verified, provide as much information as possible to make your listing stand out and improve your chances of showing up in search results. The more information you can give, the better.
7. Periodic and Ongoing Updates
Patients should always be able to get the latest information about your practice. If your website has a content management system, it should be relatively easy to make updates to your content. But you also need to keep your site up to speed with the latest technology.
8. Leverage Patient Testimonials
User-generated content and word-of-mouth are two powerful methods to build credibility, reputation and trust. Which means patient testimonials are a valuable addition to a visitor’s website experience.
9. Using Healthcare Social Media Marketing
Social media offers unparalleled reach to connect with patients and relevant influencers. Facebook and Twitter are great for engaging with patients. LinkedIn is ideal for reaching fellow healthcare practitioners and other professionals. You don’t have to be on every social media platform available–just make sure that you are able to keep up and post regularly to the networks you do decide to participate in.
10. Establish Your Reputation Online
Patients trust the opinions of other patients more than they do traditional paid advertising and new patients will often look at those reviews when researching to find a new doctor.
World-class customer experience
When it comes to brand engagement, customer experience is key. In fact, 78% of customers abandon brands because of poor customer service. So, how do you provide the experience your consumers are looking for?
- Responding to patients in real-time need through social media and instant chat (regardless of whether comments are positive or negative).
- Provide privacy. One study by Accenturefound that 85% of consumers in the US are more loyal to brands dedicated to protecting their personal information. Make sure that your customers feel secure interacting with your brand.
- Make interaction easy. Find out which contact solutions clients prefer, adapt your customer service based on that information and ensure that your customers know exactly how they can interact with you.
Brand Engagement: Where Brand and Business Meet
In the world of marketing, brand engagement is a term that’s bounced around pretty loosely. But true brand engagement is essential to get someone to act. And until someone acts, life doesn’t change. And businesses don’t grow. Behavior drives results.
Since 1999, our hybrid brand consultancy / creative agency has helped clients across the health and wellness continuum to unlock the potential of their brands to move business and customers forward. Reach out for a no-obligation consultation.